Building Your Bench

In the sports world, there are injuries in almost every game. When those injuries are substantial enough for a player to miss time from the game, the best teams have another player who is prepared to step in and fill the role. Every Sunday, NFL coaches talk about the next man up being ready and how the team can’t miss a beat or use injuries as an excuse for poor performance.

When it comes to organizational strategies, the idea of building your bench for future success is critical. The only difference in business is that there is no depth chart for each position. Instead, one has to develop the elements of the bench from role to role or level to level, possibly even across skillsets.

To build an effective bench, three things should be considered:

The need defines the role, not the player. Oftentimes, we end up giving our rock star performers added duties or special tasks that are based on their personalities or unique skillsets. While their special skills may enhance the role and influence the team, in the end the core responsibilities of that role must be defined in a manner in which anyone can step in and do the work.

Next employee up could be any player. In setting up your bench, it is often easiest to look at a senior writer as needing to be replaced by another senior writer. This is certainly true from the pure perspective of the function but if a role has multiple facets, such as brand ambassador, it is possible that a designer or a project manager could be next in line to assume that responsibility.

Training your bench takes time. Probably the most difficult part of developing a strong bench is the time it takes to develop our teams. Each position has its own responsibilities, so adding another 20% on top of someone’s workload to get them to learn the next role can be daunting. (And mentoring by osmosis is rarely successful.) With this in mind, the key becomes giving every employee development goals and making them measurable to include outcomes and inspire growth.

We cannot always be prepared for what comes next, but with a strong bench, we know our teams can handle most things that arise and that we will continue to challenge every player.

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